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Wednesday Sep 15 2021

President Biden's top aides discouraged abrupt Afghan pullout, book says

US President Joe Biden. — AFP/File
US President Joe Biden. — AFP/File

  • A new book says secretary of state and defence secretary pushed for a slower drawdown to encourage negotiations.
  • Allies including Britain and Germany have openly voiced concern over decisions on Afghanistan.
  • Peril, a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa,  says Biden's decision was popular with the public, but he has come under criticism.

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden's top cabinet members unsuccessfully tried to dissuade him from pulling all US troops from Afghanistan, hoping he would leverage the withdrawal to seek a political settlement, a new book says.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pushed for a slower drawdown to encourage negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to "Peril," a forthcoming book by famed investigative journalist Bob Woodward co-authored with his Washington Post colleague Robert Costa.

Blinken, a longtime aide to Biden who had previously staunchly backed his plan to end the 20-year war, called the president from Brussels after hearing concerns from NATO ministers in a March meeting, the book says.

"His new recommendation was to extend the mission with US troops for a while to see if it could yield a political settlement. Buy time for negotiations," it says, according to a passage published by CNN ahead of the book's release next week.

Biden, who advocated ending America's longest war a decade earlier as vice president, was undeterred and explained in colourful language that he felt generals strong-armed former president Barack Obama into staying in Afghanistan.

Biden ultimately said he would withdraw remaining troops by August 31, saying that setting conditions would only perpetuate an "endless war" in which the United States had achieved its objectives.

Biden's decision was popular with the public, but he has since come under criticism as the Taliban — ousted by a US invasion 20 years earlier — came back to power in a matter of days as the Western-backed government and military folded.

Blinken, speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, said that NATO allies had brought "various perspectives" in his meetings but ultimately backed the pullout.

The previous administration of Donald Trump had set a May 1 withdrawal date in an agreement with the Taliban.

The NATO allies agreed "that the alternative should we choose to stay was for the Taliban to resume attacks not just on us but on our NATO partners and allies, as well as to engage in this countrywide offensive that we've seen to retake the major cities — in effect, to re-up the war," Blinken said.

Instead, they "all unanimously endorsed the proposition that we would leave together."

Allies including Britain and Germany have openly voiced concern over decisions on Afghanistan, but none believed they could maintain a presence without the US military.